Lifestreaming in Obamaland

The technologies that helped Obama reach the White House are going to make the president-elect's life more transparent and scrutinized than any previous White House occupant.

Dan Farber
3 min read

Barack Obama will be the most shadowed president in history, and it won't be just the Secret Service and press corps surrounding him.

Citizens and paparazzi armed with camera phones and a variety of other multimedia devices will chronicle every movement he makes in public and post it online.

President-elect Obama visits a Chicago deli to pick up some corned beef sandwiches. According to various reports, Obama and troop arrived at Manny's Cafeteria and Deli at 12:29 p.m. and walked out at 12:45 p.m. with two cherry pies and three corned beef sandwiches, paying $48.34 in cash. Change.gov

Obama's visit on Friday afternoon to Manny's Cafeteria and Deli in Chicago was treated as a major event. Some footage was recorded by the Associated Press (see below), and in the background you can see employees, as well as a horde of press members, pointing their cameras at Obama. With half the planet in possession of increasingly capable camera phones, Obama's life will fill enormous disk space in the cloud.

Politico is also keeping track of Obama's daily life with its "44" blog, documenting the president-elect's movements and important announcements during the transition to the White House. The forthcoming Obama White House will be treated like a reality TV show or West Wing, broadcast 24x7 on the Internet.

Politico 44

Other presidents, including George W. Bush, have been similarly tracked online, but the Obama presidency brings a more finely tuned understanding to this phenomenon. Obama's pre-inauguration site, Change.gov, is providing its own play-by-play of Obama's activities, including briefly detailing the deli visit with a photo slideshow.

Posting its own version of events is a way for the Obama team to gain some control over the chaos and messaging in the midst of the incessant Obama lifestreaming that will occur over the next four or eight years. The disciplined, focused, and modulated Obama has already had a lot of practice on a big stage. Now the spotlight is all on him. Every gesture and word from Obama accessible to the public will be recorded and posted online, from a multitude of sources and points of views. His lifestream will be endlessly scrutinized and measured for meaning.

The Obama office of communications will be very busy building on the lessons learned from the campaign. Obama will likely hold more press conferences than his predecessor, but his team will continue its use of the Internet to directly reach the American people, as in Obama's weekly radio address, which is also a Web TV show that reached nearly 900,000 YouTube viewers with the November 14 edition.

Dan Manatt of PoliticsTV offers some useful suggestions--such as making the U.S. budget comprehensible to mere mortals--to the Obama communications team in a blog post on TechPresident.com:

The president's budget should become a multimedia document that makes the numbers--and the policy questions--accessible to the average citizen. The budget should be released online--not just as a pdf, as it is now, but as a multimedia, dynamic document with Web apps, widgets, and appendices applying Quicken-style functionalities, dynamic charts, etc. That way Americans can visualize and understand where their $3 trillion in tax dollars (minus the $1 trillion deficit) goes to. (Perhaps not surprisingly, private sites, including Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_federal_budget, offer citizens better digital tools to understand the budget than the White House and the OMB, https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2009/).

Given the lack of confidence in the economy and the measures taken by the current administration, as well as Congress, providing more transparency into the budget process and bailouts would be helpful to the national psyche. You can expect Obama to use his online TV channel to further change the course of history.